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James has come a long way, eh?




Information of a robbery by the Bushrangers at James Triffitt’s,

the taking and Escape of one of the Bushrangers.

Court House, Hobart Town, 19th April, 1815.

Present: – James Gordon, Esquire. ‘

INFORMATION of JAMES TRIFFITT, Settler at New Norfolk, states that, on Saturday the 8th instant, I left my Sheep at the Stony hut Plains in charge of my Servant, William Davis, to come down to New Norfolk for Provisions. I returned the next day, and, on my arrival at the Hut, was informed that Four Men, well armed with their Faces blacked, had surprised my Servant and three other Store men in the Hut, and, after plundering them of every thing they wanted, as provisions, an Ax, a musket, some Powder and Balls, two Tin Pots and two tin Dishes, the Bushrangers stayed at the Hut all the Saturday night, and left it at daylight on Sunday Morning, driving between 70 and 80 Sheep with them; on receiving this Report I returned to New Norfolk and informed Robert Hay, the district Constable, who armed another Constable and five other Men, “of  whom I was one,” and we went in search of the Bush rangers and Sheep.

I left New Norfolk on Monday about 11 o’clock in the Morning, and proceeded to Stony Hut Plains; from whence we followed the Tracks of the Sheep to a River, called the Big River, and on the Thursday about 12 o’clock, We fell in with Four Men (Bush rangers) about five Miles from the River on the South side, where they had a small Hut or Temporary Shelter. We rushed on towards the Men, who, as soon as they saw the Party coming towards them, they (the Bushrangers] instantly fired upon us, and, though’ there were only four Men, they fired five Muskets, they loaded again and then ran away. My Party then fired upon them and instantly gave chase to them; the place was thickly cover’d with Brushwood, and they were soon out of sight;

On pursuing, we came up with a Man of the name of Hugh Burn, noted Bushranger, and took him Prisoner, taking his Musket from him, which was not loaded ; on loosing Sight of the rest, we returned with the Prisoner Burn to the temporary Hut, where we found about 11/2 Pounds of Gunpowder, about 3 or 4 Pounds of Buck and Musket Ball shot, some Lead, a loaded Musket, some Cooking Utensils; 4 quarters of Mutton, and a small Part of another Sheep, all which we brought away (except one tin Pot and a few Kangaroo Skins).

We then proceeded with the Prisoner and two Dogs to the Big River, where, we stop’d all night; this might be about 35 Miles Westward from New Norfolk. On the Friday morning, the constable’ (Thomas Gay) having the Prisoner in charge, sent the other four Men of our so party in search of the Sheep. I went down to the Brink of the River to wash myself; and returned to Gay and the Prisoner, and then Gay went to wash himself when I guarded the Prisoner. I set the Prisoner to make a Cake, and on my looking round the Man. made his Escape. I presented my musket, which miss’d fire, and, the Man gaining the Brush wood and a very thick fog on at the Time, I lost sight of him.

The four Men, who went in search of the Sheep, joined me and Gay about 10 o’clock with Sixty two of the Sheep. We then proceeded together to New Norfolk, where we arrived on Saturday the 16thinstant. When the Prisoner made his Escape both the Dogs followed. While the Prisoner (Hugh Burn) was in our Custody, he told me that the other three Men, who had escaped were James Whitehead, Richard McGuyre and William Martin, and that Richard Collyer had charge of the Sheep at a little distance from the Hut; the Party did not see him.




Sworn before me, this 19th day of April, 1815, in the Court House. Hobart Town:





MORE 1815

The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 20 May 1815




I’ll get to this soon.




IN THE year 1820, a writer in the Quarterly, speaking of a book given him to review, says—“It is the greatest literary curiosity that has come before us—the first child of the press of a State only fifteen years old. It would of course be reprinted here, but our copy, pene-nos, is a genuine Caxton. This little book would assuredly be the Reynarde Foxe of Australian bibliomaniacs.”

A copy of this wonderful work is now lying before me. It is a ragged and dirty little pamphlet of 36 pages. The paper is old and yellow, the letter-press in some places illegible, and several leaves are missing. It is printed in the year 1818, by Mr. Bent, and is called Michael Howe, the Last and Worst of the Bushrangers. The popularity of the volume is unquestionable…

MARCUS CLARKE: Tales of the Colonies





M’Carthy organised a party, consisting of some eleven men, among whom were Carlisle, O’Birne, the master of the schooner, and an old convict of sixty years of age, named Worral. This old man had been one of the mutineers of the Nore, and though he vows in his narrative (given in the Military Sketch-Book ) that the only part he took in the proceedings was the writing “in a fair hand” several papers for the mutineers, he was transported for life to Van Diemen’s Land. This party, armed to the teeth, and guided by a native, set out upon the track of the bushrangers. By-and-by they heard the report of a musket-shot, and creeping stealthily up behind a huge hollowed log, came upon the bandits pleasantly encamped. The scene as described by Worral must have been a picturesque one. “Some were cooking pieces of mutton; others lolling on the grass, smoking and drinking; and a pretty, interesting-looking native girl sat playing with the long and bushy black ringlets of a stout, wicked-looking man seated by her. He had pistols in his belt, wore a fustian jacket, a kangaroo-skin cap and waistcoat, with leather gaiters and dirty velveteen breeches.” This was Michael Howe. Whitehead, the leader—“a tall, ill-looking villain”—was asleep on the grass. M’Carthy directed his men to cock their pieces, and called upon the bushrangers to surrender. Instantly the gang were on their feet. But before a shot was fired, Whitehead called a parley. “We don’t want to shed blood,” said he; “go home.” M’Carthy still held firm, and was further expostulating, when Howe roared, “Slap at the beggars!” and a tearing volley from guns and pistols rattled among the branches. Five of the attacking party fell, and, “keeping up a brisk hedgefiring,” they were forced to retreat, leaving one of their number—a man named Murphy—dead on the grass. Mr. Carlisle and O’Birne were mortally wounded: Carlisle died on the road home; O’Birne, who was shot through the jaws, lingered for four days in extreme agony.




After all the excitement of 1815 things settled down a bit – there’s scarcely a peep till 1819. It’s not too hard to see why: children are falling from the skies.  The family had no time to make the papers – they were busy making babies, a house, a home: JAMES JR. sired Ann b. 25 Mar 1816 * James b. 12 Jul 1818 * John b. 3 Oct 1820. THOMAS and Mary had a year of married life before their first, remarkable son appeared: WILLIAM Francis b. 27 Feb 1817 * Thomas b. 3 Nov 1818 * Mary b. 15 Aug 1820.

By the end of 1820, without doing a single thing, James and Mary already had six grandchildren.





THIS MURDER OCCURRED RIGHT NEXT DOOR TO TRIFFITT’S PROPERTY. There is no public mention of Triffitt but as constable and next door neighbour he was, almost certainly, first on the scene. He and Matthew Wood sailed to Australia on the ‘Matilda’ – a long, long time ago.



Saturday 18 December 1819*

26 December 1819




Wednesday 9 May 1821


lots more to come here



From the other side of the island, a very strange piece of news emerged.

Hobart Town Gazette -16 November 1822

Dreadful Account of Cannibalism

from ‘The Terrific Register’ (1825, vol. 2, 84-86)

On July the 6th, 1824, Alexander Pierce, from his depraved and wicked conduct, was found guilty, before a Bench of Magistrates held at the Court-house inHobartTown, and transported to the penal settlement of Macquarie Harbour. An important advantage which attends the establishment is the certainty that the persons sent thither cannot, with any possibility, escape by land, so completely shut in is it by the surrounding rugged, closely wooded, and altogether impracticable country…

(THE) dreadful circumstance is more fully explained in the following confession made by him in the gaol, to Mr. Birder, the Keeper, the evening before his execution.

“I was born in the Countyof Fermanagh, in the North of Ireland.  In the 26th year of my age, I was convicted of stealing six pair of shoes, and received sentence to be transported for seven years; I arrived in Van Diemen’s Land, on board the ship Castle Forbes, from Sidney; was assigned as a servant to John Bellinger, with whom I remained about nine months; was then from misconduct, returned to the Government Superintendent.  A few months after, I was assigned to a man named Cane, a constable, and staid with him only sixteen weeks, when an occasion obliged him to take me before the Magistrates, who ordered that I should receive fifty lashes, in the usual way, and again be returned to Crown labour.  Afterwards I was placed to serve a Mr. Scattergood, of New Norfolk,..

Mary Scattergood – now Mrs. Thomas Triffitt – might have been eaten – Alexander Pearce was living with them on the farm.

… from whom I absconded into the woods, and joined Langton, Saunders, Latten, and Atkinson, who were then at large; staid with them three months, and surrendered myself by a proclamation, issued by the Lieut. Governor; and was pardoned.  Shortly afterwards I forged several orders, upon which I obtained property.  On hearing the fraud was discovered, I was again induced to take to the woods.  But, after three or four months, I was taken by a party of the 48th regiment, brought to Hobart Town, tried for the forgeries, found guilty, and sent to the penal settlement at Macquarie Harbour for the remainder of my sentence.  I was not there more than a month, before I made my escape with seven others, namely,Dalton, Traverse, Badman, Mathews, Greenhill, Brown, and Cornelius.  We kept together for ten days, during which time we had no food but our kangaroo skin jackets, which we ate, being nearly exhausted with hunger and fatigue.  On the eleventh night, we began to consult what was best to be done for our preservation, and made up our minds to a dreadful result.

“In the morning we missed three of our companions,Dalton, Cornelius, and Brown, whom we concluded had left us with the intention of going back if possible.  We then drew cuts which of us five should die; it fell to Badman’s lot; I went with one of the others to collect dry wood, to make a fire, during which time Traverse had succeeded in killing Badman, and had begun to cut him up.  We dressed part of the flesh immediately, and continued to use it as long as it lasted.  We then drew cuts again, and it fell to the fate of Mathews; Traverse and Greenhill killed him with an axe, cut the flesh from his bones, carried it to, and lived upon it as long as it lasted.  By the time it was all eat, Traverse through fatigue fell lame in his knee, so much so that he could not proceed; Greenhill proposed that I should kill him, which I agreed to.

We then made the best of our way, carrying the flesh of Traverse between us, in the hope of reaching the Eastern settlements while it lasted.  We did not, however, succeed, and I perceived Greenhill always carried the axe, and thought he watched an opportunity to kill me.  I was always on my guard, and succeeded, when he fell asleep, to get the axe, with which I immediately despatched him, made a meal, and carried the remaining flesh with me to feed upon.  To my great disappointment, I was afterwards many days without food, and subsisted solely upon grass and nettle-tops, which I boiled in a tin pot that I brought with me from the settlement.  At length I fell in with some natives’ hut, which, from appearance, the inmates had just left, where I collected some entrails and bits of kangaroo, which afforded me a meal.

Two days afterwards, when nearly exhausted, I came in sight of a hut, which proved to be McGuire’s, near the High Plains.  I staid there a fortnight…

McGuire was a convict shepherd in the service of Thomas Triffitt, tending his flock of 250 sheep in the upper paddocks of Tom’s farm. These indentured convicts stuck together and so, without any knowledge of it at all, in 1822 the Trifftt’s played a bit part in the much recorded life of one of Australia’s most celebrated cannibals. Several sources suggest that it was Thomas  himself who hosted our cannibal pal, but I think that unlikely – we’ll let the notorious Mr Pearce finish his confession, just before his drop into eternity.

… and made up my mind to surrender myself to Captain Wood, a magistrate on the river Clyde, but on my way thither I met Davis and Churton, who were then desperadoes, and living at the Shannon hut.  They wished me to join them, to which I agreed.  In a few weeks we were all taken near Jericho by a party of the 48th regiment, and brought into Hobart Town Gaol; Churton and Davis were tried, found guilty of capital offenses, and suffered death.  It was my fate to be returned to the penal settlement.  I again made my escape with Thomas Cox, who eagerly pressed my departure.  I had irons on at the time; when we had proceeded some distance, Cox knocked them off with an axe he had brought with him, and we made the best of our way through a thick scrub, which was very wet.  At night we tried to make a fire, but could not  We travelled on several days without food, except the tops of trees and shrubs, until we came to King’s river; I asked Cox if he could swim; he replied he could not; I remarked that had I been aware of it he should not have been my companion; we were enabled to make a fire; the arrangement for crossing the river created words, and I killed Cox with the axe; I ate part of him that night, and cut the greatest part of his flesh up, in order to take on with me.  I swam the river with the intention of keeping the coast round to Port Dalrymple, my heart failed me, and I resolved to return and give myself up to the Commandant.  I threw most of the flesh away, but one piece, which I carried in my pocket to shew the Commandant that Cox was dead.  I confessed that I killed him, and accompanied a party in a boat to bring up his remains, which was done.  I was then sent up to Hobart Town, confined in the prison to take my trial in the Criminal Court; the result is now universally known here.

The last confession of Alexander Pearce – Hobart Gaol, 20th June, 1824.”

Thomas Bock’s drawing of Alexander Pearce – 1825









Colonial Secretary’s papers February 7 – March 5 1823: John Macklin and others convicted by Court of Criminal Jurisdiction of stealing from Triffitt (Reel 6023; X820 pp. 81-3)


In January 1824 the Colonial Secretaries papers announced that James Snr. and the two sons were on the list of persons in Van Diemen’s Land recommended for grants of land in extension or addition to first grants. James is listed as Joseph Triffitt – but the land was his just the same. (Reel 6017; 4/5782 p.26).




James Senior prospered rapidly; he owned a horse, 100 cattle, 1,000 sheep and employed 4 convicts. He was a successful man; not quite so successful, however, that he could pay his bills on time. In this same year he’s on the Colonial Secretary’s books for failing to pay his quit rents on the property – but James, the boys, and most of the rest of Van Diemen’s Land hadn’t forgotten to pay their quit rents – they had absolutely no intention of doing so.

Quit rents were charges levied on land grants. The rate of quit rent and the conditions under which such rents were levied changed a number of times, but normally grantees were not required to pay their rents for seven years either from occupying their land or from obtaining a valid title deed. A key grant condition was to spend a specified amount of money improving and cultivating the land. In the Australian colonies governors made little attempt to collect the rents and thus settlers convinced themselves that, as long as they fulfilled the conditions of their grants, that the rents would never be imposed. When the British Government compelled governors to enforce collection, the settlers resisted and created a rift between government and people… in Van Diemen’s Land most colonists simply did not pay quit rents and invited the Crown to seek redress in the courts. Such a stand was not as courageous as it seemed. Colonists knew that few juries would support the Crown and expose themselves and fellow colonists to heavy imposts.

Dr. Stefan Petrow: Discontent and Habits of Evasion

The stand-off continued. The legal ramifications wound their labyrinthine way from Courts to Government and back again several times. The whole issue became immensely complicated, and like most things in the colony, gathered up a host of allied causes with it. Taxation without representation. The jury system. The role of the law. Leave aside the practical considerations; how can you tax the land if there are no records? The land must be surveyed. Round and round it went. The taxes went up. Nobody paid them. Eventually, it all got too hard. An indemnity was granted for all unpaid debts up till 1825, so that the Government could sort it all out; none of the men ended up paying anything.

Till Governor Arthur came along…



The Australian Council of Professional Historians gives the following information about casualties from ‘THE BLACK NATIVES’ in 1824, compiled by H.A. Willis:

1824 Sorell Plains: The stock-keeper, Patrick Macarthy murdered by Mosquito’s associate, Black Jack.

1824 Blue Hills: The stock-keeper, James Doyle murdered and his hut burned. March (SE Oatlands)

1824 Jericho: Matthew Osborne and his wife, settlers, speared — he fatally.

10 June somewhere: Attack thought to be led by Black Tom (?).

1824 Abyssinia: Two servants of the settler Oakes murdered by Mosquito’s mob.

June 1824 Big River: A servant of the settler Triffitt murdered by Mosquito’s mob. 1 CSO 8 (16/6/24)

1824 Swanport: A servant of the settler Meredith murdered. July (Oyster Bay)

1824 York Plains: A servant of the settler James Hobbs murdered. August (SE Oatlands)

1824 Cape Portland: Four sealers murdered: Duncan McMillan, William Saunders, John Cliff and Samuel Stewart.



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